Khalil Oghab, the Father of Iranian Circus
By Liam Klenk
Khalil Oghab is the Father of Iranian Circus. This is a title he has given himself, yet it is also the truth. Nowadays, outside Iran, not many will have heard of him. Neither people inside nor outside the circus community. However, Oghab holds world records in strength. He is one of a kind and plays an important part in international circus history, since he founded the first Iranian circus.
Khalil Oghab was born in Shiraz in 1924, as Khalil Tariqat Peyma.
During his early childhood, Khalil’s parents were worried he wouldn’t make it into adulthood. He was thin, weak, and often sick.
However, against all odds, young Khalil grew up to be an exceptional athlete. He found fame within Iran by practicing and excelling in a traditional form of Iranian martial arts called Zurkhaneh.
In his best performing days in Iran, in the ’40s and ’50s, Oghab attracted large crowds. He was famous for bending heavy metal beams and getting run over by cars.
Apparently, during one event in the 1960s, 50,000 people came to watch him perform.
20 years later, in 1971, at the age of 47, he emigrated to Ireland at the invitation of the Faust Circus. In 1972, he moved on to England to join the Jerry Cattle Circus.
After working in England, Oghab eventually settled in Italy, where he founded a circus called “Iran and Italy.”
He also worked as a movie stuntman abroad.
Overall, Khalil Oghab performed a variety of athletic performances for many different circuses in more than 37 countries.
The Iron Man of Iran, as he was called abroad, was able to carry 450 kg of weight with his teeth. This astounding feat earned him a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records in 1971.
As far as is recorded in social media, no one has even even come close to breaking his record since.
Oghab also lifted a 1,500 kg heavy elephant with his feet. This up until the age of 50. It is said that for five years in a row he did this twice every night, just to maintain the strength he needed for his shows.
(I wonder how the elephant felt about that?)
In 1991, Oghab came back to Iran, after the government of his home country invited him to return, along with sixty performers who had worked for Oghab’s Italian circus. Among these were two of his children, Shahrzad and Ebrahim.
As soon as he arrived in Iran, he went to work to launch the first ever Iranian circus, following global criteria and standards.
Up until 2017, he was actively involved in daily circus life. Apparently, he even still performed on stage, together with his son Ebrahim and other family members. Then the circus was closed.
In 2019, the Iron Man of Iran, then 95 years old, lived in the Velayat Container Park in the South of Teheran. He was forced to leave after he failed to pay his container’s rent.
Oghab told the Iranian Newspaper, “After the closure of Rushen Circus, I stayed at a container but the municipal employees kicked me out after I was not able to pay my rent. My livelihood is at stake and I have no source of income.”
As is the case for many artists, social security had never been a benefit of his career.
Oghab bemoans the lack of respect, yet still projects strength and dignity at his high age. “I don’t want to beg. But I deserve to be treated with more respect. I am under pressure due to high medical expenses and have no savings.”
“Everything I owned has always gone directly into my circus or to support people in my circus community who needed help.”
The Sports Ministry supports Iranian top athletes, but Oghab says, this unfortunately doesn’t include him, since he was never affiliated with the Iranian sports commission but rather with the arts and circus.
Thankfully, after being forced to leave his container in Teheran, Khalil Oghab and his wife were able to move back to his birth town Shiraz, where they are living in good conditions.
Khalil Oghab is now 97 and overall still fit as a fiddle. Since beginning of 2020, a documentary about his life is being filmed in Iran. It is supposed to screen within the next few months.
Main sources for this article are 2 newspaper articles in the Teheran Times: August 7, 2019 – Iron Man Khalil Oghab bemoans lack of respect September 16, 2020 – Meet Khalil Oghab, “the Father of Iranian Circus”
Instagram of Rushen Circus https://www.instagram.com/circus.rushen/?hl=en
YouTube Video: World’s Strongest Man, Khalil Oghab ‘The Iron Man from Iran’: